In my last blogpost, we examined the question of how prescriptive a teacher training course like the CELTA ought to be.  

Business English teacher and teacher trainer Charles Rei’s response to my post, ‘The Terrain of Teacher Training’, in which he compared teacher training to his military training experience, aptly suggested that while we might choose to be less prescriptive when teaching trainees to deal with higher level tasks and opt to guide them towards navigating their way around the classroom, some ‘fundamental and routine tasks’ might need to be more prescriptively taught.

Beth Vasconcelos, who owns a language school in Brazil, also commented at the end of my post that sometimes, with new teachers who have no knowledge of what to do in the classroom, it is necessary to be prescriptive so as to enable them to ‘go and deliver’.  As Charles said at the end of his blog post, they never taught privates the art of navigation simply by taking them to the forest and telling them to start walking.  

On a more abstract ideological level, it is perhaps easier to debate the desirable attitudes and beliefs of a teacher trainer, but how does that translate to Teaching Practice (TP) on a CELTA? How should TP points be written in order to give the necessary guidance but not be overly prescriptive? (Please refer to my previous post for more on Teaching Practice and TP points)

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Here are some examples of some different TP points given by different tutors.  Each tutor is providing TP points for three different teacher trainees teaching consecutive 45-minute lessons on the same day.

 How do you think these TP points reflect the beliefs about teacher training held by the different tutors?

 Example A:

 Trainee Teacher 1

Aims: Lexis/Speaking
Material: p48
• Lead in to the topic: student talking together with brief feedback
• Focus of Target Language: Ex 1 could be used for the vocabulary task but perhaps this needs extending as 7 items are not really enough to stretch this group in 40 minutes. Think of 3 other activities/games you could add
• Clarify Meaning Form and Pronunciation at feedback to task
• Controlled Practice: A controlled practice task could be to put the games into categories
• Freer/Communicative Practice: Ex 2 but perhaps you could extend this so that it is more productive?
• Feedback and Delayed Error Correction: during the speaking stage, note down errors and good use of language, and students can work in pairs to correct it. 

Trainee Teacher 2

Aims: Reading/Lexis
Material: p 48-49
Remember the stages for a receptive skills lesson.
• Lead in to the topic but liaise with teacher 3 who has the same topic
• Reading for gist: Perhaps ex 3 needs adapting
• Reading for detailed understanding: What type of task is ex 4? Perhaps the questions need to be extended.
• Post teaching vocabulary: Select some words from the text and give students the definitions or synonyms to match. Words you could focus on include connect, expect, nearby, nightlife, etc. and they find the words. Clarify for MFP at feedback.
• Follow-up Productive Skill activity: Think of a suitable speaking activity to follow up with.

Trainee Teacher 3

Aims: Grammar/Speaking
Material: p 49
• Lead in: If possible, think of a way of creating a link to the previous lesson, and, if you can, make the interaction student-to-student.
• Focus on Target Language: Get students to look at the Grammar box and complete it from memory. They can read again to check. You then have four model sentences.
• Language clarification: students then complete the sentences in e 6 (this is a guided discovery task). At the feedback stage, ask further concept checking questions and further clarify form and pronunciation.
• Controlled Practice: Ex 7 looks good but think about how you will get feedback – use the Interactive White Board?
• Freer/Communicative Practice: Adapt the ‘Get Talking’ section of the book?
• Feedback and, if time, Delayed Error Correction: During the speaking stage, note down errors and good use of language and students can work in pairs to correct it.


Example B:  

Trainee Teacher 1
: Carnivals & Festivals
Main aim: Lexis/Grammar – Adjectives & intensifying adjectives pg. 4 Ex 1,2,3,4
Guidance notes: Make the most of pictures and get students to talk and share their experiences. After speaking tasks, get students to share their findings with the whole class and give them feedback/correction of their use of language.

Trainee Teacher 2
: Telling Stories about Carnivals & Festivals
Main aim: Listening & Grammar – Past Simple vs Past Continuous pg. 5 Ex 5,6,7,8 & 9
Guidance notes: Listening is your sub-aim so ensure you focus on the content of the listening activity before presenting the grammar through the listening text. Give students more support in helping them to understand the difference between the use of these 2 tenses. 

Trainee Teacher 3
: Telling a true story about me
Main aim: Speaking and Writing pg. 5 Ex 10 & 11
Guidance notes: This topic is a bit vague, so you might want to adapt it to focus on a certain type of experience/story that students could tell (avoid festivals because the first teacher has done that). You are giving practice of the intensifying adjectives and the past simple vs past continuous that students have done earlier.



Example C:  

Trainee Teacher 1
Page 6,7 Ex 1,2,3,4,5
Main aim: Reading
Sub aims: Vocabulary and speaking
Notes: Set the context for the rest of the lesson, reading is the main focus of the lesson don’t leave it too late in the lesson.

Trainee Teacher 2
Page 7 Ex 6,7,8
Main aim: Subject vs. object questions
Sub aims: Grammar practice and speaking
Notes: Provide students with a grammar focus.

 Trainee Teacher 3
Teacher’s Book Page 58 & Follow up activity 2
Main aim: Freer productive practice of subject and object questions
Sub aims: Speaking and writing 
Notes: Give students freer productive practice


Example D:  

Trainee Teacher 1
Page 79
Main aim: Vocabulary - multi-word verbs1-3 

Trainee Teacher 2
Page 79/80
Main aim: Listening
- Pre-listening task
- Intensive listening
- Comprehension check 

Trainee Teacher 3
Page 80
Main aim: Speaking (read the teachers book notes on Teacher’s Book page 55 carefully)
Listen to students’ use of language during the activity, make notes and give them feedback on their language (mistakes with Meaning, Form and Pronunciation) at the end of the lesson: allow 5 minutes for this.


In my exploration, it occurred to me that perhaps my trainees might actually benefit from less handholding and being thrown into the deep end right from their first lesson. And so I embarked on my ‘no-TP points’ training course.

I would allow trainees to create their own lessons with minimal instructions from me, but would be available to go through their lesson plans with them a day before they teach during their Supervised Lesson Planning sessions, guiding them to achieve what they want to achieve from their lessons.

But most of the guidance, I believe, came from the feedback they received after they have taught their lesson, which should then go on to inform how they plan their subsequent lessons.


In terms of TP points, all my trainees got was this:

Trainee Teachers 1-3 Lesson 1: Cutting Edge Mid-Intermediate pg. 26-35

The teachers were given a part of a course book to work with, but had the option to use other materials or even create their own.

Interestingly, the few times I conducted a ‘no-TP points’ CELTA course, I have informally observed that trainees seemed to produce lesson plans at a level of creativity and originality that I had not seen on my previous courses. My trainees were less apprehensive about experimenting with moving away from traditional lecture-style lessons, with a speaking-focused class, and with different forms of Task-based Learning. 

In addition, the focus of their lessons seemed to be more about helping their students with their language skills and creating speaking opportunities than following a procedure or plan for the sake of it. 

And for the first time, I felt like I was not just catering to the lowest common denominator, but was able to truly challenge the stronger trainees, harness their strengths and allow them space to develop their teaching skills.


At the end of the course, my trainees were asked about the level of guidance and support they got. It was then revealed to them that there were other CELTA groups that had received more detailed TP points.  

I had half-expected my trainees to stage a revolt and question my methods, but surprisingly, they unanimously said that they would have hated being told what exactly to include in their lessons, and could not imagine how they would learn to teach by being restricted in those ways.  


Coincidentally, during the same time as my little informal action research, my then-colleagues Annie Thompson and Catriona Johnson conducted a teacher development session where the following list of advantages and disadvantages of using TP points on training courses like the CELTA was produced.

Advantages of TP points

• It takes the pressure off trainees.
• It’s a framework which gives them the support they need at the beginning.
• Even experienced teachers can benefit from the guidance of TP points.
• It makes for better lessons.
• It makes SLP (Supervised Lesson Planning) more efficient.
• It avoids time wasting with difficult TP groups.
• No TP points puts too much strain on the trainer(s) – more handholding involved during SLP?
• It is unrealistic to expect trainees to decide how long an activity will last.
• It ensures students get practice of new language, otherwise this tends to get lost – i.e. if you don’t assign language for trainees to teach, they’ll do anything to avoid it especially grammar.

Disadvantages of TP points  

• This is where the real learning takes place.
• Trainees have more ownership over what they’re teaching.
• It forces trainees to work closer and liaise together and they bond as a result.
• TP points can be difficult to interpret and it avoids ‘but it said I should…’
• It avoids the ‘weaning off TP points’ stage, which can be difficult for trainees.
• It gives them practice of working with the coursebook, which is a skill they need to develop as a teacher.
• It reduces the mixed messages they receive from a variety of authorities (the tutor, the coursebook, and the teacher’s book).
• It gives trainees the freedom to make choices. 


Perhaps we could then teach privates the art of navigation simply by taking them to the forest and tell them to start walking if we observed how they coped via surveillance cameras, provided them with guidance along the way (via a walkie-talkie?) and offered constructive feedback based on the observations after they have finished their walk.